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Bahrain, Land and Resources

arraq, xerophytes, pearl oysters, sea cows, gaws

Bahrain’s total area is 707 sq km (273 sq mi), a little less than that of New York City. The main island of Bahrain is by far the largest, with an area of 562 sq km (217 sq mi). The country lacks dramatic topographical features, such as mountains or valleys. The main island consists of a low desert plain that rises to a low central escarpment where Bahrain’s highest point, Jabal ad Dukhan (134 m/440 ft), is located. The smaller islands, which include Al Mu?arraq, Umm an Na‘san, Sitrah, Jiddah, and the ?awar Islands, are generally low-lying, some only a few feet above sea level. Parts of Manama are being expanded through land reclamation. Bahrain lacks rivers, lakes, and other permanent bodies of water. It obtains water for drinking and irrigation from underground aquifers.

Despite harsh desert conditions, Bahrain supports varied plant and animal life. Many plants are halophytes (plants that are salt tolerant) and xerophytes (plants that are drought resistant), including flowering desert shrubs. There are many palm trees, although increased groundwater salinity has reduced their numbers. (As more and more freshwater is withdrawn from underground aquifers, saltwater from the Persian Gulf seeps into the aquifers, making the groundwater more salty.) An abundance of marine life, including groupers, mackerels, shrimps, pearl oysters, and dugongs (sea cows), thrives in Bahrain’s surrounding waters. Land animals include scorpions, snakes and other reptiles, hares, hedgehogs, and gazelles. The government funds a conservation program to breed the endangered white, or Arabian, oryx (a type of antelope) at Al Areen Wildlife Park.

Petroleum and natural gas constitute Bahrain’s principal natural resources. However, the country’s reserves of petroleum and natural gas are far smaller than those of its neighbors. Only about 4 percent of the land is suitable for farming. Bahrain’s surrounding waters contain considerable numbers of fish and shellfish.

Bahrain experiences extremely hot and humid summers between April and October, with temperatures regularly rising to 43°C (110°F) and sometimes reaching 52°C (125°F). Winters are milder, with temperatures ranging between 10° and 20°C (50° and 70°F). Annual rainfall averages about 100 mm (about 4 in) and falls almost entirely during the winter months. Seasonal winds periodically cause sandstorms and rough seas. The shimal, a northerly wind, blows in June and July, and the gaws comes from the south before or after the shimal.

Oil spills and other discharges from large tankers, oil refineries, and distribution stations have damaged coastlines, coral reefs, and sea vegetation. No natural freshwater resources exist, so groundwater and seawater are the only sources for all water needs. Rapid depletion of aquifers has caused groundwater to become saline. In some areas, industrial pollutants have contaminated water sources with heavy metals. Agricultural development has been neglected, and the limited arable land has been degraded. Erosion of farmland has brought desertification. Bahrain’s Environmental Protection Secretariat has worked to reverse environmental damage, especially in marine areas.

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